Fourth of July Celebrations Lead to Greater Association with Republican Party

Attending Fourth of July celebrations as children is associated with an increased likelihood that, as adults, individuals will identify as Republicans and actively participate in the political process, a new study has found.

Co-authored by David H. Yanagizawa-Drott, assistant professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, and J. E. Andreas Madestam of Bocconi University in Milan, the study examined the political effect of childhood experiences on the Fourth of July.

“These kinds of celebrations can actually have a long-term impact on political preferences and political participation,” Yanagizawa-Drott said.

The study used the presence of rain on the Fourth of July—an occurrence that would decrease attendance at patriotic events like fireworks, barbecues, and parades—to investigate whether there was a link between Fourth of July celebrations and voter tendencies.

The findings revealed that childhood experiences significantly shape adult patterns of voting and civic engagement. For each rain-free Independence Day during childhood, the likelihood that an individual becomes a Republican adult increased by 2.1 percent.

Voter turnout also increased 0.95 percent for each rain-free childhood Fourth of July. These voters were more likely to make campaign donations, work for political parties, and attend rallies.

The research found that Fourth of July experiences between the ages of seven and 10 were most likely to affect adult voting behavior. In addition, the impact on adult political identity from this patriotic exposure remained intact.

“We show these effects are very persistent. In fact, they’re permanent,” said Yanagizawa-Drott. “As you grow older, the effects are the same. They don’t depreciate over time.”

This discovery fits in with recent studies in developmental psychology and neurobiology, the authors wrote, which has revealed the foundational importance of early years in psychological development.

The critical childhood period for voter turnout, however, occurred much later in childhood, between the ages of 15 and 18. Despite this later peak, the effect of patriotic celebrations depreciated following teenage experiences.

“In short, the effects of Fourth of July on political preferences are permanent and occur at a relatively early age while the impact of the celebrations on voter turnout occurs later and fade out over time,” the authors wrote.

Looking forward, Yanagizawa-Drott may be interested in implementing a similar study in another country.

“It’s not obvious that we would expect, necessarily, that political preferences shift to the right in all countries,” he said. “You have to look at each individual country, look at their history. We might potentially see a…reverse effect in other countries.”

—Staff writer Leanna B. Ehrlich can be reached at lehrlich@college.harvard.edu.

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